In this tutorial, we’ll be creating a poster with a strong geometric central design, which utilizes flowing blends, masks shapes, and subtle gradients, to create a sophisticated final work. Learn each detailed step in creating this poster. Let’s get started!
First, we’ll prepare the document and swatches. Create a new US Letter sized document using RGB mode (located under the Advanced options). I have five color swatches prepared in my Swatch palette to be used for my illustration:
- Bright Green: R=199, G=255, B=0
- Blue: R=121, G=255, B=255
- Hot Pink: R=255, G=0, B=139
- Orange: R=255, G=147, B=0
- Dark Grey: R=50, G=53, B=56
Now let’s create a 4xU shaped icon. Select the Ellipse Tool and draw a circle (around the size of 3.8 inch). Give the circle a stroke of 96 pt, and apply the bright green swatch as a stroke color. Give the circle no fill.
Grab the Direct Selection Tool (white arrow) and select the bottom anchor point of the circle. Hit the Delete key to delete the bottom half of the circle.
Turn on Smart Guides (View > Smart Guides or Command + U). Select the Pen Tool and and click On the left anchor point of the circle to continue the path segment. Hold down the Shift key and click again somewhere further down below as shown in the image below.
Hold down the Command key and click on the white background of your canvas to end this path. Now click in the other anchor point of the circle, hold down Shift and click again further down below on the same height of the other line you’ve just drawn. With Smart Guides turned on you should see an intersection of two guides.
Grab the Selection Tool and use it to select the entire object. Go to Object > Expand. Make sure Fill and Stroke are checked. Click OK.
Select the Rectangle Tool and drag a square around the object, starting at the Smart Guides’ intersection point in the top-left corner as shown.
Hold down the Shift key and drag diagonally, from the top-left to the bottom-right, to draw a square.
Select both objects using the Selection Tool and go to the Pathfinder palette (to reveal this palette, go to Window > Pathfinder or hit Command + Shift + F9) and choose the Intersect option.
You should end up with this result (see image below).
Now comes a bit of a tricky part…
The red dot (shown in the image below) will be our rotation point for the next step. Drag guides to help you define this position. Start by dragging two horizontal and two vertical guides so you en up with four intersections that form a square as shown.
Draw this square on top of the guides using the Rectangle Tool, while holding down the Shift key. With the square still selected, drag another vertical guide onto the center point of the square. Now delete the square. The intersection point of this vertical guide where it meets the bottom horizontal guide is your rotation point.
Select the Rotate Tool, hold down the Option key and click precisely on the intersection point. In the Rotate dialogue box enter the value of 90 degrees and click Copy. Now hit Command + D (Object > Transform > Transform Again) two times in a row to repeat this action twice.
Give each object a different color fill, applying the swatches you’ve prepared at the beginning of this tutorial: blue, hot pink, and orange.
Select all four object using the Selection Tool. Go to the Transparency palette (to reveal this palette, go to Window > Transparency or hit Command + Shift + F10) and select Darken from the dropdown menu. Group the four objects (go to Object > Group or simply hit Command + G).
Drag two horizontal and two vertical guides as shown in the image below. The four intersection points should result in a square.
Select the Ellipse Tool and draw a circle. Click in the top left intersection point and drag towards the bottom right intersection point while holding down the Shift key. Give the circle a thin white border and no fill.
Draw a small circle on top of this circle starting from the center point out as shown. Again, hold down the Shift key while you drag.
Stop dragging and release the mouse exactly at the four intersection points as shown. Select both circles and turn them into a compound path. Go to Object > Compound Path > Make, or simply hit Command + 8.
You don’t actually see the result of this since the circles don’t have a fill, but if you give the object a fill, you’ll see that you’ve created a hole and that you now have a ring shape. We’ll be applying this shape as a mask.
Select both the grouped object and the ring shape and go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make, or simply hit Command + 7. Give the layer a name, something like “4xU” for example.
Create a new layer in the Layers palette by clicking the Create New Layer icon at the bottom of the palette (to reveal this palette go to Window > Layers or hit F7). Make sure the new layer sits below the layer holding the four objects. Drag the layer below it.
Now click the triangle in the “4xU” layer to reveal all sublayers. Click the circle shaped target icon on the right of the sublayer that is called “Compound Path” to select all the objects of this sublayer. Hold down the Alt key while dragging the content of this sublayer onto the new layer below it. Holding down the Alt key duplicates the content while dragging, which is what we need.
Remember, we’ve applied a Darken transparency mode to our “4xU” object. This means that as soon as we move this object onto a dark background, the colors will change; the effect and outcome will be totally different. To make sure we maintain this exact result, we need to add a white background below this object.
Give the layer a name of “white background” and add a new layer below. Call this layer “background.” Select the Rectangle Tool and draw a rectangle that matches the document’s size. Give the rectangle a dark fill by using our dark gray swatch (R=50, G=53, and B=565).
Now select the “4xU” object and the “white background.” In the toolbar at the top (to reveal this, go to Window > Control), select Align To Artboard from the dropdown menu (left to the align option). Select the Horizontally Align Center option and then the Vertically Align Center option from the align options in the toolbar.
Now when you zoom in very big, you’ll notice some irregularities. To hide these, we’ll add a circle that matches our shape and give it a 1pt stroke, the same color as the background.
Select the Ellipse Tool and find the intersection point using Smart Guides (Command + U to switch Smart Guides on and off) as shown.
With Smart Guides turned on it should be easy to draw a circle that matches our ring shape. Don’t forget to hold down the Shift key while dragging.
Now let’s create smoky lines using the Blend Tool. Create a new layer that resides right above the background layer. Select the Pen Tool and draw a very curvy upwards line as shown. Give the line a 0.5pt stroke that is the same color as our background. Go to the Transparency palette and give the line 0 Opacity.
Draw a second curvy line and make sure you intersect the previous line twice. Give the line a 0.5 pt stroke using a gray of R=1154, G=116, and B=119.
Select both lines using the Selection Tool. Select the Blend Tool from the toolbox and click once on an anchor point of one of the lines, now hold down the Alt key and click on one of the anchor points of the other line close by as shown. In the Blend options dialogue box, choose Specified Steps from the dropdown menu, choose Align To Path (second option) as orientation, and enter a value of 200 steps.
You should get a result as shown in the image below.
Select this smoky blend object and grab the Rotate Tool in the toolbox. Click somewhere in the “4xU” ring, hold down Alt key so you duplicate the object while you drag as shown in the image below to rotate the object.
Select this new duplicated object and copy and paste it. Move it towards the top of the page. Grab the Reflect Tool and mirror the object horizontally. Grab the Direct Selection Tool, select an anchor point on one of the lines. Drag the bezier handles to modify the curve so you’ll end up with a different smoky line to make things look more random. Repeat this step if needed one more time until you have some nice smoky effect.
Now we’ll work on applying some finishing touches, using the opacity masking technique. Let’s make a glowing circle. This finishing touch uses some more advanced techniques and also requires version CS4.
Create a new layer below the “white background” layer and call it “glowing circle.” Select the Ellipse Tool and draw a circle (holding down the Shift key while dragging) that is slightly bigger than the “4xU” ring object. Make sure the circle is perfectly center aligned with the “4xU” icon. Turn off visibility of the “4xU” layer and “white background” layer (eye icon) for now. Fill the circle with a radial gradient going from white with 15% Opacity to the color of our background with 0% Opacity at a location of 80.68, as shown in the image below.
Select the Ellipse Tool again and draw a circle on top of this circle. Give the circle a default white to black radial gradient. Click the Reverse Gradient option in the Gradient palette (to reveal this palette, go to Window > Gradient or hit Command + F9) so you end up with black in the center of the circle going to white.
Now select both circles and go to the Transparency palette (to reveal this palette, go to Window > Transparency or hit Command + Shift + F10). Select Make Opacity Mask from the palette’s dropdown menu (arrow on the top-right of the palette). Click the mask icon in the Transparency palette (on the right of the link icon). Select the Gradient Tool from the toolbox and adjust the location of the Gradient Slider as shown.
Now we’ll create a subtle spirograph background effect.
Create a new layer right above the “glowing circle” layer. Select the Ellipse Tool and draw a very big circle almost double the size of the “4xU” object (holding down the Shift key while dragging). Give the circle a radial gradient fill going from a light blue (R=122, G=232, and B=255) to the color of our background (R=50, G=53, and B=56). Go to the Transparency palette and choose Overlay and a value of 25% Opacity.
Select the Rotate Tool from the toolbox. Hold down the Alt key and click somewhere in between the center point and bottom anchor point of the circle. Enter a value of 60° and click Copy. Now hit Command + D four times in a row. Group all the circles. Select the Rectangle Tool from the toolbox and draw a rectangle matching the artboard’s size. Give this rectangle the same black to white radial gradient fill as the glowing circle. Select both the spirograph and rectangle, then go to the Transparency palette and select Make Opacity Mask again from the palette’s dropdown menu. Click the mask icon in the Transparency palette, select the rectangle, and select the Gradient tool. Edit the gradient if needed.
The final design is below. The font used in this poster is Neutraface. Have fun applying these techniques in your own work!